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Controversy over campaign to switch patients to pharmacists

Monday February 12th, 2018

A national campaign to take pressure off GPs was being launched today – amid concern that it could cause delays in diagnosis of sepsis.

The national campaign will urge patients to visit a pharmacist before a GP when they have minor illnesses.

According to NHS England, there are 18 million GP appointments a year for self-treatable illnesses and another 2.1 million visits to A&E departments – at a total cost of £850 million a year.

It says that a very small number of parents would consider consulting a pharmacist about a minor illness – just 6%, according to a recent survey.

A similar proportion – 5% - would seek emergency care.

The survey also found that just 16% of adults would consult a pharmacist about a health problem.

The campaign gained cautious support from the Royal College of GPs, which said that “if unsure” patients should seek expert medical assistance.

The charity Meningitis Now expressed concern that parents would be deterred from seeking help for children with meningitis. The family of a teenager who died from sepsis last month has claimed they were deterred from seeking help by publicity about how to care for flu.

Senior pharmacists said the profession would trained to advise customers if they needed further medical help.

English deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Bruce Warner said: “Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice and effective treatments for a wide range of minor health concerns right there and then.

“They can assess symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment or simply provide reassurance, for instance when a minor illness will get better on its own with a few days’ rest.

“However, if symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need. We want to help the public get the most effective use of these skilled clinicians who are available every day of the week.”

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “Pharmacists are highly-skilled medical professionals who play an important role in advising patients on a huge variety of minor illnesses and conditions, and recommending over-the-counter treatments and basic self-care guidance. Crucially, they are also trained to look out for symptoms that could potentially indicate serious conditions, and advise when GP or emergency care is necessary.

“But of course, they are not GPs and in an emergency or situation where genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance, particularly if parents see potentially serious symptoms in their child such as a very high temperature that doesn’t respond to simple measures, features of dehydration or lethargy.

“We also understand that all parents worry when their child falls ill, and that ultimately, they are best placed to identify when something really isn’t right with their child. So, if parents notice anything of significant concern in child’s health or behaviour they should of course seek the advice of a GP or ringing NHS 111.”

Meningitis Now chief executive Dr Tom Nutt said: “Whilst we welcome this NHS initiative to better use the underutilised value that community pharmacists offer in treating minor illnesses, we have real concerns about putting another step in the process of swift diagnosis for something like meningitis, which could result in valuable time lost - a commodity which is in short supply when trying to prevent the worst patient outcomes.

“Some 40% of all Meningococcal B cases occur in children under the age of four, with symptoms which can be mistaken for a cold, often developing at an alarming rate.

“We would recommend and urge parents to learn the signs and symptoms of the disease and trust their instincts to seek the appropriate medical intervention which in the case of suspected meningitis may not be a pharmacist, but a GP and or local A&E.”

Tags: Child Health | Flu & Viruses | NHS | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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